Making the leap from paid staff to consultant has its risks, but it also brings some real advantages and a genuine sense of excitement. Andy Taylor at The Desired Effect is loving the journey so far.
When you have a job it’s easiest to get another job doing the same thing. After a decade in fundraising, six years of it as a fundraising director, the easiest and the safest option for me would be more of the same. A few well-targeted job applications and I’d be set for another half decade with a good salary, pension and some generous benefits.
What then is the attraction in giving it all up for the relative uncertainty of life as a freelance for hire? For me it was push and pull; push from the restrictions and formality of organisational life, and pull from a need for the variety that just isn’t there when you work on the same things year-in-year-out. But an easy option it’s not, and I’ve had to learn a few things very quickly.
Wise-up, and fast
Firstly, be in it for the long term. Getting established in any field takes time, and consulting is no different. I was advised that it can take up to three years to get well established. Anyone looking for a fast-track to glory should look elsewhere.
Second, you don’t have to go it alone. The Desired Effect is a partnership, and we each bring different things to the party. You can’t be all things to all men so broaden your offer to the market by working with others. We work finding our clients the best agencies to turbo-charge their fundraising as well as doing business development and pitch training with agencies. It’s our combined experience which means we can offer more than we could as sole agents.
Most importantly, use your contacts. There’s no better advertising than referral and recommendation. Build your reputation and client list first and then see about that plush website. Social media is critical but whilst it’s rock bottom cheap it’s not easy; use it wisely and only say something that’s worth saying.
Similarly, seek out others to seek their advice. One of the good things about our sector is that people will often lend their counsel without wanting anything in return. I’ve sidestepped some big pitfalls already because some good people warned me about them, and I haven’t even bought them a coffee yet.
Is it for you?
The downsides are there and they can be quite scary. There’s no settled routine, no guaranteed monthly pay day, and if you want a break then add on the income lost to the cost of the holiday: Suddenly a week on the beach is an expensive choice. Failure too, if not an option, is certainly a possibility and this is no game for the risk averse.
But the benefits, for me certainly, are huge. I can choose my hours around my family, within reason, and I’m relieved of the daily commute to the office. I get variety and the freedom to focus my energy on what really counts without the distractions of too many rules, procedures, and too many meetings that do nothing at all to raise money.
The Desired Effect has been a liberating journey so far, and one well worth taking. My only regret, perhaps, is that I didn’t set off sooner.